How Do We Combat Zoonotic Pathogens in the Age of Pandemics?

What is a zoonosis?

A zoonosis is an infectious disease that can be transferred from a human to an animal. Over half of all infectious diseases come from a zoonotic origin. Zoonotic diseases of the past include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, West Nile fever, the Zika virus, and the Ebola virus.

What causes zoonotic pathogens?

One major cause of zoonotic pathogens is humans augmenting wild habitats to suit human needs. This augmentation is referred to as land-use change. Land-use change can cause something called zoonotic pathogen spillover. This phenomenon refers to how a confined species can transmit pathogens through blood, biofluids, aerosols, and contaminated surfaces. Deforestation or land-use change can contribute to species isolation and confinement, and this isolation makes zoonotic pathogen spillover more likely.

Zoonotic spillover also typically happens when three species of pathogen hosts are involved. These include the source host, recipient host, and intermediate host. The source host is the first species that incubates the pathogen, while the recipient is a species that has been infected with the pathogen from the original host. The intermediate host is the species that acts as a bridge between the recipient/source hosts and human infection. Humans can be infected in various ways, whether through exposure to biofluids, eating meat, or contaminated water. Intermediate hosts include pets like dogs and cats. When kept outside, these animals can be exposed to a wide variety of pathogens that they bring into the human home.

One significant factor in the ability for a zoonotic spillover event to happen is the nature of a pathogen. Viruses with an RNA genome will mutate faster than other viruses, allowing these viruses to adapt to other species more quickly. Another essential factor to consider is the widespread use of standard antibiotics as a cure-all in veterinary medicine. While this general administration of antibiotics may prevent bacterial infection, it also is responsible for pushing animal bodies to create antibiotic-resistant strains of disease. This antibiotic administration is most common in the meat industry. This industry has continued to use antibiotics to respond to a risk-benefit matrix that prioritized the benefit of cheaply sourcing meat over the implied health risks of widespread antibiotic administration.

How can I prevent the spread of zoonotic pathogens?

One way you can prevent the spread of zoonotic pathogens is by opting out of the meat industry. A considerable element of land-use change is the need to create spaces for animal agriculture. You will be advocating for decreased land-use change if you choose to become vegan or vegetarian.

Additionally, you can advocate for lessened use of antibiotics in farming and agriculture. While antibiotics improve cost ratios for farmers, they also decrease the ability of animals to develop resistance to pathogens. Farming practices typically separate animals from their parents earlier than other animals would naturally separate them in the wild. As a result, their bodies are not exposed to natural beneficial bacteria. You can advocate for organic farming rather than industrial farming to discourage these two factors that contribute to zoonotic pathogens. If exposed to larger animal populations, you can help prevent the spread of pathogens by practicing good hygiene. Practicing good hygiene includes but is not limited to washing your hands when handling animals, wearing coveralls or laboratory coats when caring for animals, avoiding eating in animal stalls or habitats, wearing gloves, and minimizing exposure to biohazardous material when possible. Even if you are only exposed to your pet, it is still vital to ensure they are kept up to date on vaccinations and parasite prevention medications, so they do not potentially become an intermediate host. You should also make sure to quarantine your pet from other animals if they show any sign of disease.

You can also help prevent the spread of zoonotic pathogens by following recommended healthcare professional guidelines. C & A is here to provide you with the information you need to navigate the future of pandemics. To learn more about Covid-19 treatment methods, check out our blog on Molnupiravir.

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